The destruction of eight-tons of illegally-poached scales sends powerful message to poachers
On 17 February, one day before World Pangolin Day the government of the Republic of Cameroon conducted Africa’s first-ever public burn of confiscated pangolin scales. The event destroyed eight tons of scales - equivalent to an estimated 12,000 individual animals - seized from illegal poachers and traffickers.
This solemn act marks the country’s commitment to the conservation of the world’s most heavily-trafficked wild mammal, explains Carly Waterman Pangolin Technical Specialist for the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), an IUCN Member and SOS grantee.
The burning was facilitated by a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including ZSL and hosted by Cameroon’s Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Ngole Philip Ngwese.
Found in Africa and Asia, all eight species of pangolin are currently declining across their range due to poaching. More than one million pangolins are thought to have been traded illegally over the past decade, and seizures of large quantities of scales from African pangolins are becoming increasingly commonplace in Asian markets.
Pangolin scales – which are made from keratin, the same material as human fingernails and rhino horn – are used in traditional Asian medicine, with China and Vietnam representing the main destinations for illegal shipments from Africa. Pangolin meat is also regarded as a delicacy in some markets, both in Africa and Asia.
International trade in all pangolin species is currently banned after all the eight species were listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in October 2016.
Commenting on the burning, Francis Tarla, a ZSL conservationist who helped coordinate the event said, “Cameroon are sending a strong message to the world condemning the devastating trade and encouraging other national governments to join the fight and protect pangolins”.
“However, government action alone cannot solve this crisis. The engagement of local communities, NGOs and industry at local, regional and international levels will be indispensable in order drive awareness, change behaviour and reduce consumer demand for both pangolin scales and meat. “
Following the decision to uplist all surviving pangolin species to Appendix I at the CITES CoP17 conference in Johannesburg last October, the government of Cameroon also moved to upgrade its three indigenous species to Class A – the highest level of legal protection available under the Central African country’s conservation system. Ahead of the stockpile being destroyed, a full inventory of the scales was carried out alongside DNA profiling, generating invaluable data for the CITES database in order to inform future efforts to fight wildlife crime in Cameroon and beyond.
Pangolin conservation work implemented by ZSL in Cameroon is supported by IUCN’s SOS – Save Our Species through the Fondation Segré funded Pangolin Conservation Initiative. To learn more about this project visit the project profile here.
This encouraging news from Cameroon comes on the same the country has committed to restoring over 12 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2030 as part of the Bonn Challenge initiative which you can read about here.